Q. As chief legal officer of a global investment company with operating businesses in multiple industries globally, what are some of the key challenges you see facing in house legal teams during this pandemic?
A. In house teams will need to adapt quickly to the fact that all of a sudden, the amount of work arising from what I call situational matters will increase significantly relative to routine operational matters. Every business around the globe has been impacted, but no two businesses in the same way or to the same extent. Teams that successfully navigate this pandemic will be the ones that are nimble, calibrate their resources to focus appropriately and set up team structures and processes to deal with the unique situational matters without compromising the quality of support on routine operational matters.
Q. What strategies have you deployed to meet these challenges in order to support the business?
A. I am blessed to be surrounded by a team of lawyers who are talented and dedicated professionals. Given that we have six very distinct businesses within the group, our department structure comprises business partners and practice groups. Everyone has a “major” and a “minor,” and this setup allows us to deploy specific resources from the practice groups (where members are domain experts) on both situational and routine matters to support the business partners, each of whom is intimately familiar with the commercial and operational aspects of the businesses.
Q. Beyond solving the urgent problems that present themselves each day, how does the legal department contribute to the developing strategic business vision of your company?
A. Communicating regularly with key stakeholders (internal clients, other corporate functions, senior management, boards of directors, shareholders) is critical. Additionally, we take a holistic, multidisciplinary approach in our work, which in turn allows us to offer practical, commercial solutions beyond academic legal advice. I would add that since the legal department has multiple touchpoints with each of the above, it really is in a distinctive position to help the leadership synthesize all the different pieces of the puzzle from short, medium and long term perspectives.
Q. Many observers believe that the global economy will undergo some permanent changes due to the pandemic. How do you see this playing out and what opportunities do you think the pandemic presents for companies once the public health crisis comes under control?
A. This is a tough one because although fundamental changes are certain — depending on what happens in the next few months in this global battle against the pandemic — there’s still great uncertainty as to the extent the global economy will change. However, what I can offer here is that when times are good, it is easier for lapses in corporate governance, financial discipline and enterprise risk management to be swept under the carpet. Scrutiny is stepped up when the going gets tough. When the going gets really tough (as it is now), many businesses will be confronted with existential crises that will force them to reinvent themselves. Those that survive will be the ones that make hard choices in order to emerge leaner, more efficient and focused.
Q. What do you think are the most important roles that leaders like you play in supporting businesses to be well positioned for these opportunities?
A. Putting people first. This means caring for those you work with on a personal level as individuals and keeping them motivated, placing them in the right roles, creating the right framework and environment for success. We have to make greater efforts in staying connected through all available means in order to continue providing thought leadership and strategic direction to advance a common vision and objective.